Thursday, October 7, 2021

An Interview with Ashkelon Sain







Ashkelon Sain, Seattle, 2012. (photo by Photo Slavery)

Ashkelon Sain is an absurdly talented musician that deserves to be known by anyone who likes; ambient, psychedelic, soulful, shoegaze, and experimental music. One of my missions in life is to champion the music that I enjoy. I treasure Ashkelon's music. He makes so many different types of music that there's an album for every mood, or activity.

It's been my great fortune to have seen Ashkelon play twice, both times with his darkwave, dreampop, prog, goth, psychedelic, awesome band, Trance to the Sun. I'm still hoping to see Ashk play some more and maybe with a different band. I attempted to cover a number of Ashk's projects, but there was no way I was going to try to cover them all.

So, here is an interview conducted with Ashkelon Sain via email. Dig it.

What was your first music project/band? What did that teach you?

The first??? Oh Dear! Just a little cover band where we attempted to play songs by The Clash & The B52’s. I think the most important thing to recognize here is that I was just a 14 year old kid who asked his mom if it would be okay if he started a band and held rehearsals in the garage, and my mom was kind enough to say yes.  


This Ascension, Santa Barbara, 1991. LtoR: Kevin Serra, Dru Allen, Tim Tuttle, Ashkelon Sain, Matt Ballesteros. (photo by Tom Tuttle)



For a while you were with the band This Ascension (an amazing 90's Santa Barbara darkwave/dreampop band) what are some of your standout moments with this band?

Indeed. Awesome band. Not much of my time with them is really captured anywhere though. I joined on as bassist around the time their second album was being finalized. I was present for the mixing of that album (Light and Shade) and I got to lay down some celestial guitar leads for the song “Chameleon Room” at that time. I went on to play a year’s worth of shows with This Ascension, as their bassist, & along the way I co-wrote a small cluster of songs which appeared eventually on their third album (Walk Softly, A Dream Lies Here). I left to concentrate on my other band Blade Fetish though, in like 1992, for better or for worse, so, it was ultimately Cynthia Coulter who performed those basslines of mine when the third album finally got recorded. I think she did an excellent job of it.


Trance To The Sun, Santa Barbara, 1996. LtoR: Ashkelon Sain, Zoe Wakefield, Robert Alonzo, Israel Medina. (photo by Lucian S. Donato)



Trance to the Sun was your main musical project for a number of years. TTTS toured the US multiple times as well as doing a number of shorter tours. How did you manage to pull that off without the backing of a major record label?

Monetarily speaking? Well, we kept our expenses down as best we could. Thinking back, it seems to me that the concert promoters who brought us in were really enthusiastic about having us, and super gracious about paying us well. So what comes to mind first is all these individuals in different cities who made it possible for bands like ours to come through... I salute you all! And then there was my 1991 Volvo station wagon named Miranda. Champagne color, very sturdy. We didn’t have a live drummer very often, and we relied on drum machine for most shows, therefore we could fit all our gear in that one car, which saved on gas. It was always quite an epic adventure. 



Trance To The Sun, Philadelphia, 2000. LtoR: Joaquin Gray, Ingrid Luna Blue, Ashkelon Sain. (photo by Clovis IV)

Ambient Submarine Fleet, Santa Barbara, 2001. (photo by Shawn Brenneman)



You did a string of experimental guitar albums that were mostly improvised and recorded live in front of an audience. What memories do you have of those shows? How do you feel those recordings got you prepared for what was next?

The coffee shop I used to frequent back around 2001 was looking for some chill live music on the weekends. They asked me about that possibility, and I said ok. My setup was really simple for that, all direct, so capturing a recording was super easy. What surprised me was when I discovered afterward that I had so much fun listening to the playback! I gave titles to all the different pieces that I’d made up on the spot, and then the obvious next step was to print up some easy CDrs. In a span of about a year I ended up recording eight CDrs worth of “Ashkelon Sain’s Ambient Submarine Fleet”, as it were. There was even a hand-made box set which I had for sale on my website for a time, but I sold out of all those in like 2003. 

Ashkelon Sain’s Ambient Submarine Fleet, Santa Barbara, 2001 (photo by Shawn Brenneman)



I’m flattered that you asked about it, since that music has been submerged beneath the sea for almost 20 years. Since you asked though, I’m going to set a little time aside to dust off & polish up one of those original concert recordings. Look for that to appear soon at trancetothesun.bandcamp.com

What else did you ask? How did it prepare me? Oh heavens! I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I approached the years immediately to follow with any profound preparedness, so if the experience was meant to prepare me for anything, it most definitely backfired! Hahhahahaa! It wasn’t about that though. It was just a moment in time where I basically pulled back the curtain and was like, “Ok everyone, here’s what Ashkelon Sain does with his guitar when he thinks no one is listening.”


The Astonished Eyes of Evening, by Cinema Strange. Recorded 2000-2001.

You produced at least one album that I know of, that you didn't perform on. How did it feel to be the producer instead of the band?

Back in 2014 I was on tour as bassist for an Italian band called The Spiritual Bat (I’ve been guest keyboardist here and there on some of their studio recordings), and when we showed up at this club we were going to play in Tijuana, they had “The Astonished Eyes of Evening” by Cinema Strange playing on the sound system. I was wowed!!! It was as if my own living room had been delivered to me in another country! I’m not really sure if the DJ knew my connection to that music, I kind of think it was just happenstance.

I’ve produced a small grip of songs & albums for others, including Deadfly Ensemble, and also a Portland band called Fever (formerly Bedtime…), but I’m guessing that the Cinema Strange album is the one you know. It all felt really normal, actually. Cinema Strange are amazing musicians. I basically just encouraged them to be their raddest selves, and they really just let me do what I was brought in to do. I amped them up, I gave them feedback, y’know, like “This is rad!”, “Fix that!”, “Add to that”, “Axe that!”. They let me be the arbiter of their disagreements and they gave me a lot of freedom as far as how the final mixes would sound. And they even invited me to come up with a structure for some of their rougher ideas (like the Red And Silver Fantastique, for instance). It was a true team effort, and I think everyone remains to this day feeling it’s like a dream come true, the way that album turned out.


Cinema Strange, Camarillo, California, 2001. (photographer uncertain)

The production aspect is probably my strongest suit, really, when you take the Ashkelon puzzle all apart. I have a bachelor’s degree in music composition, which basically means that I’m versed in an onslaught of 16th century pseudo-scientific equations which, when applied to Western musical tonalities, are thought to be capable of translating emotions across any and all language barriers. I’ve only ever used this information to help me express my own emotions, if I did anything else with them I’d be a film score composer, or just plain insincere. It’s helpful information to have though, and I’d recommend it for anyone college age that thinks they’d like to do something like what I do. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to become truly educated about the physical science of sound though, geeeez! To think I went through my entire thirties not knowing there’s exactly 10 octaves of audible sound??? The lowest sound humans can hear falls somewhere around F or F#, and the highest sound humans can hear sits way up around another F borderline F# at ten octaves higher. And then it occurred to me that any C falls dead center between two F#’s, like, is that why Middle C is thought to sound like the “middle”? I still wonder about that. Anyways, eventually I made up my own set of names for each of the ten octaves of audible sound, & I use them when I’m listening and analyzing and thinking. These are:
Whale Sounds (46hz & below)
Subsonic Bass (46-92hz)
Shadow Bass (92-185hz)
Voodoo (185-370hz)
Bells (370-740hz)
Whistles (740-1480hz)
Heat (1480-2960hz)
Action/Shimmer (2960-5920hz)
Hiss (5920-11840hz)
Air (11840hz & above)
The physical science of sound matters a great deal when a song is in the production phase. People’s eardrums prefer by default a balance between the ten octaves in order to sense beauty, generally speaking, although in musical sound there’s these exceptions that often occur which can be magickal. Had I been able to explain all that stuff logically years before, maybe today I’d be like one of those amazing guys who make pro-recording Youtube videos while sitting in front of a 96 channel mixing console, or like someone who gets their own feature in Tape-Op Magazine, LOL! I can do theoretical analysis like a professor on the human-made auditory cosmos we call “Western Music”. However, I am totally self-educated when it comes to mixing, acquiring knowledge even still where I can, and somehow that’s gotten me by for all this time but I don’t know how. I will confess though that lately I’ve been reading an author named Bob Katz, and that’s made me feel so much more informed than ever when it comes to sound.

Oh, so back to the original question. I had this friend named Shawn Walker back in High School whose dad had pretty nice little recording room, and Shawn by the age of 17 was becoming an incredible songwriter. Shawn gave me the gift of engineering, by engineering and mixing one of my songs in his dad’s studio, and I was absolutely hooked! So I got my first four track cassette machine when I was about 17 or 18. The first thing I did outside of tracking my own songs was to record a punk band from my school. They were a tight band, but then I was listening carefully to their lyrics and I realized they were white supremacist nazis, so I realized I need to be more selective about who I do this stuff for. I didn’t touch anyone else’s music for a long time until for some reason or another I engineered a couple demos for this Santa Barbara thrash metal band who won’t be named, but their friends caught my backyard on fire and stole my neighbor’s pot plants, so I was again deterred from becoming any kind of a professional recording dude. Along came Cinema Strange a couple years later and they were wonderful! That led to me producing some songs for Deadfly Ensemble later on down the road. The most recent band I produced anything for was Solemn Meant Walks from Chicago.


Ascension To The Sun, Portland, 2012. (photo by Kristin Neuschwander)

For a time you performed with members of This Ascension as Ascension to the Sun, playing songs from both This Ascension and Trance to the Sun. How challenging was it to meld the styles of both bands together and make them work on stage? Are there any recordings of those shows that might be released some day?

I wouldn’t say we even tried to “blend”. It was just like, let’s draw up a set list and give it a shot. Had we written any songs, maybe a discussion about blending would have occurred, but the project was only ever assembled for the purpose of performing existing TTTS & TA songs live. Oh, and one of our drummers, Jeremy George, wanted to call the project “To The This”, but he was outvoted, haha!
The project gave me a chance to perform with Cynthia Coulter, which was a pleasantly unanticipated opportunity… Oh, and there’s three Youtube videos, so as for the result, just see for yourself! Honestly, that was just a really short chapter that came together by accident. The video of us playing the last song off “Bloom Flowers, Bloom!” is priceless though, to me at least. “Rex” is the title of that one… I’m so proud of everyone’s performance there. I loved how Daniel Henderson really made my drum machine parts come alive. And, oh, so cool, I got to relearn my original improvised celestial solo from that day in the studio back in 1991 when we did “Chameleon Room”, and to perform it live for the first time ever. So much fun! And Dru & I go way back, like, I think we first met at a Siouxsie concert in 1988. I’m really grateful that we all got to do that handful of shows, how many of them there were I can’t remember. 


Ascension To The Sun, Portland, 2012. LtoR: Ashkelon Sain, Cynthia Coulter, Dru Delmonico, Daniel Henderson, Jeremy George. (photo by Lucretia*Renee Rathmann)

Here’s those videos:
“Rex”:https://youtu.be/Rlun_CmPY6I
“Chameleon Room”: https://youtu.be/29JPEiLCd0w
“Fearful Symmetry”: https://youtu.be/U_mbzODkwy8 



Ashkelon Sain & Soriah, San Francisco, 2012. (photo by Dru Delmonico)

One of the many artists that you worked with is Soriah, a Tuvan throat singer. How did you get involved with Soriah? There is a spiritual feeling in your music with Soriah, was that intentional?

I don’t think Soriah would object to me calling him musically, how should I say this… promiscuous, hahahahaahhaa! He plays with everybody! And then he flies off to Asia all the time and plays music with everyone there too! In all sincerity though, Soriah has to be the most naturally gifted, musically inclined person I’ve ever had the chance to work with. & I think most people who’ve performed with him would say the same thing. He primarily does conceptual performances, so most of his concerts are one of a kind, one time sets. Soriah had me perform with him a few times when I was new to Portland, and the improvisatory nature of the type of performances we did back then was a different and interesting challenge. After a time, I envisioned a concept for what an album we made together might maybe sound like, and we tried writing and recording some actual “songs” together, and it clicked! In fact, we made two studio albums, plus a live album! They all live here: https://soriah-with-ashkelonsain.bandcamp.com/   


Eztica Tour Flyer, Los Angeles, 2011. LtoR: Daniel Henderson, Ashkelon Sain, Soriah, Marshal Serna, Jonathan Howitt. (photo by Lucretia*Renee Rathmann)

Soriah with Ashkelon Sain went on to become a band in its own right. We brought in two or three other musicians, depending on who was available. We went on tours, made videos. We even toured Japan! Seven years went into that effort. Some of the best shows I ever played came along that pathway. Was it spiritual? I’m going to defer ultimately to Soriah on that one. You’ll have to interview him. To me, I think we just had a sense of what each other would feel like was common ground, and we worked within that framework, that empire, that forest, that temple… hahaha whatever it is! Did you know that it’s now believed that temples were the founding monuments of civilization itself? Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, was our music spiritual? Maybe, but not exactly? Soriah might give you a different answer, but from my point of view, the sound we achieved together, I’d have to call it primordial.
Here’s a video or two:
https://youtu.be/y-tjFUWDzXo
https://youtu.be/FmXNoRYglcQ   


Soriah with Ashkelon Sain tour flyer, Jerome, Arizona, 2012. LtoR: Daniel Henderson, Marshal Serna, Soriah, Jonathan Howitt, Ashkelon Sain. (photo by Lucretia*Renee Rathmann)  


Trance To The Sun, Eugene, Oregon, 2015. LtoR Enrique Ugalde (Soriah), Ingrid Luna-Blue, Daniel Henderson, Ashkelon Sain. (photo by Lucretia*Renee Rathmann)



After being away from Trance to the Sun for many years, Trance to the Sun (TTTS for short) released an all new album called Via Subterranea. How did that come about and why then? 


Trance To The Sun, Seattle, 2014. LtoR Ingrid Luna-Blue, Ashkelon Sain, Daniel Henderson. (photo by Terry Luna)

Let’s see, that was like, 2013 when we embarked on that! And it had been some years for sure. The last concert prior to that had been in ’07, and the last album prior to that was released in ’01. I didn’t think I was ever going back to doing more TTTS, and then in 2012 & ‘13 I had been demoing new ideas, some of which were ostensibly for a third album with Soriah, but it was all too far outside the ‘Soriah with Ashkelon’ framework. And then I took a more objective look at that folder full of new music ideas, like the initial demos for Aviatrix, Loch Ness Square & Where Smoke Blows Across, and I was like, well damn, it’s actually more of a rough sketch for a new TTTS album. So I called Ingrid and she really wanted to do it. And Daniel Henderson had had a great time drumming for Ascension To The Sun & Soriah, so he got on board, and we made it real. I mean, when a freak snow storm inundated our first photo shoot, that was when I knew for sure that the stars were aligning just for us! The songwriting was the funnest part of the whole experience though, absolutely. When Ingrid & I got together to do our tag-team wordsmithing and start transforming the raw musical ideas into actual tunes, it was totally alchemical, explosive, mind blowing. Definitely the most enjoyable songwriting experience of my life. It took almost 4 years to realize the album though, which was too long. And it’s hard to be in a long distance project. I had a lot to learn about making mixes using a real drum kit too. I simply didn’t know how much I simply didn’t know until we made that album. Biggest single learning experience of my life.
Oh, but those songs! I love them all.
I’ve seen where you’ve written in your blog, btw, that it’s your favorite album TTTS ever made. That makes me very happy to know. Here it is: https://trancetothesun.bandcamp.com/album/via-subterranea
And here’s a video: https://youtu.be/3WWm2mQ9AGE  




Trance To The Sun, San Francisco, 2014. LtoR Terry Luna, Daniel Henderson, Ingrid Luna-Blue, Ashkelon Sain. (photos by Rafa Corral) 



Devoured By Flowers tour poster, Portland, 2018. Ashkelon Sain & Dorian Campbell. (photo by Marshal Serna)


Devoured by Flowers is one of your more recent bands. Can you tell me more about the band and how it came together? Have any of Devoured by Flowers live shows been recorded for release?

Devoured By Flowers began when I started producing an album for my friend Dorian Campbell. Dorian had been the frontman of this band called Sumerland here in Portland, and I was a huge fan, still am. Anyone who likes Devoured should track down Sumerland’s album “Imaginary Ways”, you’ll love it. Soriah was a member of Sumerland incidentally too, on drums and guitar (he appears under his birth name Enrique Ugalde). After they disbanded, Dorian asked me if I’d be game to produce a solo album for him. He brought over a truckload of songs he’d written, I think this was like 2010. We thought we were supposed to be making a solo acoustic album at first, but all Dorian’s songs held these wide open spaces which cried out for more instrumentation, so I got out my bass and started programming drums, and we brought in Daniel Henderson and Jonathan Howitt to add some live drumming as well. I was still focused on Soriah back in 2010ish, and then in 2012 there was a Sumerland reunion show (with yours truly as guest bass player). In 2012 I actually performed as a member of six different bands! 



Sumerland, Portland, 2012. LtoR: Dorian Campbell, Ashkelon Sain, Cedric Justice, Enrique Ugalde (Soriah), Marshal Serna. (photo by Lucretia*Renee Rathmann)

After that crazy year, for 2013 I switched gears completely and started working on the new Trance To The Sun album, so what Dorian & I were working on never really got off the ground until 2016, when we played our first gig opening for The Spiritual Bat (That initial DBF lineup featured me on bass and Soriah on guitar, actually!). Devoured By Flowers went through a number of very cool and interesting lineups over the next 3 years. And we played up and down the West Coast, just basically enjoying being in a band. Dorian & I were the core members, and we had some excellent other players along the way, but a lasting full time lineup of other musicians never really took hold.

 


Devoured By Flowers, Los Angeles, 2018. LtoR: Andrew Stromstad, Dorian Campbell, Ashkelon Sain, Aaron Nicholes. (photo by Dizhan Blu)


You know how it is these days, everybody is in multiple bands, working multiple jobs, falling in love and moving away. How we actually pull this off, sometimes I don’t even know. Our first album “Moonscape Hotel” was finished in 2018, and then our second album “Phantom Time Traveler” was done in 2020.
https://devouredbyflowers.bandcamp.com/album/phantom-time-traveler
https://devouredbyflowers.bandcamp.com/album/moonscape-hotel

And I don’t know if this is what you mean by a “release”, but we have some concert videos on Youtube that aren’t bad at all. This one I’ll link is perhaps my favorite. Daniel Henderson set up his camera and let it roll before climbing behind the drums. It features Devoured By Flowers (with our friend Devon Lopetrone on bass) playing at 1 in the morning on the third night of a music festival called Litha Cascadia, which before the Covapocalypse was held annually at a venue called Red Hawk Avalon, which is on private land in the Washington woods near Olympia (hopefully this fest will return): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5LYvxfOitE&t=972s
And then there’s a full concert set worth of individual song videos beginning here, with the talented Sandi Leeper on keys, and the legendary Andrew Stromstad on bass. Same band, different lineup. Very tight! : https://youtu.be/XBdTeZOWI9Y 


Newest Releases, 2020/2021: Remasters of Venomous Eve, “Bloom Flowers, Bloom!”, “Phantom Time Traveler” by Devoured by Flowers… & the new Trance To The Moon 2xEP “Lavendar Skies”.

Recently you released remastered versions of the TTTS albums “Bloom Flowers, Bloom!” & “Venomous Eve”, both of which originally were released in the 90s. Why did you decide to revisit these two albums in particular? What challenges were involved in re-mastering the album? Did you have to approach them differently?

Well, I just love those albums SO MUCH! It was on my to-do list since forever to have those be remastered someday. Quarantine yielded the time, so 2020 became the year, with “Bloom” being ready by December, and “VenEve” coming up behind it and finally being printed in March of 2021. I did the preliminary audio restoration and spot fixes myself, and I hired Doug Krebs to do the final mastering. He did a really super excellent job I might add!
As far as my bringing any expertise to the remastering process, I really owe it to all the experience gained from struggling to mix “Via Subterranea”. It was the lessons from that whole endeavor that made me able to do the front end restoration work needed to enable these two remasters sound as beautiful as they do. As I said, I learned a ton from that experience.
I don’t know if this is interesting to anyone, but what I mean by preliminary audio restoration is I isolate audio frequencies that are out of range with the rest of the sound, like I look at every little tone that bends your eardrums excessively out of shape, and using highly fine tuned EQ technology I knock all those frequencies into a more logical place, approaching them one by one. And you asked… was the experience different between the two albums? Yes. For “Venomous Eve” those transients, as we call them, the ones in need of individual attenuation numbered in the hundreds. On “Bloom” they numbered in the thousands (it sounds amazing after mastering if you take the time to do that first). I’d been slowly working on “Bloom” for years. Come 2020, I finally found I had the time to finish the project. https://trancetothesun.bandcamp.com/album/venomous-eve-2021-remaster
https://trancetothesun.bandcamp.com/album/bloom-flowers-bloom-2020-remaster



You have appeared on many albums, produced, and recorded in many different styles, what are some of the things that you achieved musically that you the most pleased with?

Bringing people together. Somehow that turns out to be the most rewarding thing, actually. People form friendships all the time based on their mutual gravitation to certain music. Whole crowds condense on concerts with the shared realization that they’re at an important time and place. I feel it every time I set foot in the venue at a great show.
One thing I’ve done which I’m not sure very many people know about is I played guitar on and off for more than a decade in a Portland-centric Cure tribute band called TheXplodingBoys. And this exemplifies what I’m saying, aside from it being great practice and discipline and all, I didn’t do it to glorify the Cure, or pretend I was someone I wasn’t. I didn’t do it to go on tour or prove anything. I did it because of the awesome sense of community that arose from us performing those shows here locally. We did a final show in 2019, and if you watch it you’re sure to see what I mean:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOFcHpYHzMU&t=926s

There’s plenty more videos of TheXplodingboys on Youtube, but this one in particular of “The Kiss” is something I still really enjoy, and I think it also exemplifies what I’m saying: 
https://youtu.be/pcNnmK0zTGg

Like I said, the best thing about that experience, and I think these videos reflect it, is the awesome vibe within the crowd. It seems to me, in our culture as I know it, loving the same music is the superfuel of making friends. Performing music as a band can be as well, like, I sometimes ask myself, who would I even know in this world if it weren’t for the experience of playing and creating music? I shudder to contemplate the void my life might actually be without the friends I’ve made through music.



TheXplodingBoys, Portland, 2012. LtoR: Michelle Peccia, Viktor Nova, Cedric Justice, Daniel Henderson, Ashkelon Sain. (photographer unknown)

Not a lot of people know that you've often written lyrics, as well as music. You have also done titling for songs and albums. Do you want to write more lyrics? Occasionally you've made up words. How much do you value that word play?

The funny thing about my lyric writing is, well most of the time anyway, I seem to only be interested in writing lyrics vicariously, as in, I have to know who is going to sing it, and I imagine it in their voice. So that means I have to know the person, and it’s usually the knowledge of their perspective that becomes the inspiration for what I write. It helps immensely though to work with singers who are great lyricists themselves, like, because I don’t really have this great overwhelming need to write the words to my music on my own. Lyric quality though, that’s massively important to me. So I’ve always sought out singers who had a way with words. It’s as important as voice tone. Thinking back to like, “Urchin Tear Soda” & that era, there were times when I was doing a fair bit of lyric writing. I definitely liked writing specifically for Ingrid, since she was such a great friend, and we could relate to one another, and we shared a very blunt sense of humor. When it comes to Devoured By Flowers or Trance To The Moon though, I just pipe up with a few word suggestions when that’s called for, and that’s fine with me.



Ashkelon Sain, Seattle, 2012. (photo by Photo Slavery)

You also ask about titles? So, dude, where did you get your information? Yes, you’re in fact right, I have been the one to give titles to most of the songs when it comes to Trance To The Sun & Trance To The Moon. As a rule I come up with some sort of a title before the words are even written. Those initial titles aren’t necessarily final, and they don’t stick every time, but in general I find it works better that way if I start with one. Maybe it’s like, if I give a singer a musical sketch and say sorry, I don’t have a title, then that’s too non-committal. It seems that on some level maybe I have to know what emotion I’m conveying from the music, and summarize that somehow in a title.
I’m a big fan of song titles, especially long ones, or extremely short ones. I’ve always loved the most those ones that wrap around the back of the album cover, like “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”, or “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. Trance To The Sun’s song “Calling All Vanished Airplanes” aspires to be part of that long song name club. Sometimes I even think of the title before I play or compose any music at all. As a matter of fact, from time to time I’ve maintained lists of proposed future song titles. I have notebooks with pages devoted to song title ideas. There’s a lot of ancient notebooks on certain shelves around here.



Monet Alarie, the voice of Trance To The Moon, Portland, 2021. (photo by Ashk)

Your new project is called Trance to the Moon. What would you like people to know about Trance to the Moon? How will this project different from TTTS?

The most important thing to know is I discovered an extraordinary new voice to collaborate with, and that voice belongs to Monet Alarie. They’re a great friend as well. As of this point we’ve released seven songs, and those are up on https://trancetothemoon.bandcamp.com as well as Spotify & all that. We have a very cool new video on Youtube: https://youtu.be/ouq-r8hXr-E and another video is on the way, along with about 6 more songs we’ve written, so there’s more stuff in the pipeline for sure. And I’m just really excited about it all, because this new stuff we’re doing is awesome & beautiful. Also, we’re participating on a Killing Joke Tribute album, due out on Halloween. We have a debut live performance coming up in December. If things ever become truly ok again in this world we’ll play more shows, maybe tour, who knows?


What musical projects are there that you haven't done yet, but would very much like to try?


You kill me! I have no idea at the moment! I usually feel like I’m going full throttle all the time just to try to keep up with the ideas that emerged maybe six months or a year ago! Maybe I just want to lean more and more in the direction of Psychedelic Haunted Forest Goth?


 

Ashkelon Sain, Portland, 2021. (photo by Ogo Eion)


























Thursday, September 30, 2021

An Interview with the Gypsy Moths

There are many amazing bands in the world today. One of my favorite Boston bands is The Gypsy Moths. Below is an interview with their guitarist Chris Conway. 

If you haven't heard the Moths check them out! https://thegypsymoths.bandcamp.com/

 

The first Gypsy Moths album, Alright, was all cover tunes, yet it felt like a party set list, instead of just a collection of songs. How did you go about choosing what songs you included on the first album? Where there any songs that you wanted to include but couldn't? What are some of your favorite memories of making the album?

Thanks for the kind words on "Alright!" and for all of your support of the band over the years! Essentially that record was a snapshot of our setlist at the time, or at least the stuff we were most enthused about recording. We had done a proper studio recording of a Christmas song before the album sessions as kind of an experiment after having recorded "home demo/live in the rehearsal space" Christmas songs for a few years prior ("Come On To The Christmas Party", a J. Geils Band song they released only to WBCN in 1980 under the pseudonym "The Snowballs" which we knew as rock radio obsessives growing up around Boston at that time), and were floored to get airplay for it on the Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM, so I think that opened our eyes to the possibilities of making a recording and getting exposure that way. It was also before we had begun writing for this band; we all had written in prior bands and projects, but at the time of that record the band wasn't really focused on that. I think we all also wanted to have some kind of document of this band not having a firm plan in place for the future of where we might take things, and with us all being serious vinyl fans it seemed like a fun idea to make a document of our band at that moment in time and preserve it on a record. It was also a bit of a nod to bands we love like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that had very little/no original material on their first records, as well as a ton of r&b/soul bands we love from the 50's/60's who never wrote their own stuff. The best element or memory to come from it was working with master engineer/mixer/studio owner Ed Riemer, who is like another member of the band when we work together, and who we work with on our recordings to this day. Amazing guy and unbelievably talented musical mind whom meeting was the best thing that happened to us as a band



You have a lot instrumentation compared to most rock bands, how challenging is it to get the mix just right?

It certainly can be! We very much aapproach recording and the studio to be something special and unique to the live experience, and try to take advantage of what the studio offers as an approach to songs as best we can. I've always loved bands that have a different element live than what you hear on their records, giving different approaches to the songs depending on the format and environment, so we lean into that with enthusiasm. Ed is a wizard in the studio and has a true natural talent for finding where things sit best in a mix, and our collaborations with him over time have grown to a place where we're all pretty much from the same mindset on what goes where, how much, and why. We also made a lineup change right as we were headed into the studio to record the "Wollaston Theatre" EP adding Scott Miller to the fold on woodwinds, and his contributions on a variety of instruments has added another layer to the palette that actually makes the mixing process more fluid as he's so talented and intuitive on playing to the song and understanding what benefits them in terms of instrumentation, approach, and what to play when. It's great enhanced our growth as a band and vision for the road ahead.  


The Gypsy Moths have played at yacht clubs, on a boat, clubs, breweries, porch fest, and other various places/events, yet the band has turned every spot into a party. What's the secret to making that happen?

I guess that comes down to our attitude and approach in doing what we can to bringing that vibe and feel to every gig, but a lot of credit for that must also be given to the folks that come and see us show after show, they're really the secret element that brings the room alive and creates that kind of atmosphere. We've also been fortunate to have a fair amount of new folks at most every gig we play that recognize and jump right into the spirit of the shows, which adds its own unique element as well. Probably also doesn't hurt to have the band full of guys who have been attending shows, playing shows, and listening to live albums for decades so we have our own take on what to bring to the party to make it a party. 


A couple of years ago, the band played at the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade which is of course, a gigantic event, and it was broadcast live on TV. What was the band's feeling about playing such a big Boston event? What enabled the band to stay focused playing on truck in a parade?

That's a funny story, actually. We submitted the application to play the Parade as a complete lark, thinking we'd never in a million years get accepted and that it would be a funny thing to hang the rejection notice on the wall of our rehearsal room/band headquarters (which is in Southie, adding to/instigating the humor). But then we were accepted! What the hell are we going to do now!?! Luckily, we were in a situation where our piano man, Mark Donahue, was able to secure a flatbed truck, power generator, and driver for the day so we somehow managed to pull it off. It was such a surreal experience, I don't think any of us will ever forget turning the corner onto Broadway at the start of the Parade (after sitting on the idling flatbed for 4+ hours waiting in place for the event to start) and kicking into our song "These Days Will Run" (we figured what the hell, why not start with one of our own?) with a sea of people ahead of us as far as the eye can see. And it stayed that way for the next three hours! Focus was near impossible between the crowd (estimated at over 1,000,000 that day!), the elements (briskly cold and biting bright sunshine), and the truck being a wavering, constantly moving object that was a lot less steady and stable than any surface any of us had played on prior. We had a few spills and even more near misses, but the exhilaration, crowd response, and sheer determination to get through it kept our big ol' 18 wheeled ship afloat for the duration. 


Last year you released an EP called, Wollaston Theatre. What's the story behind the title? The EP is made up of four original songs, what did you think the reaction would be to self penned material? How difficult was it to transition to recording original material?

"The Wally", as we all knew it, was a theatre most of us in the band (five of us are Quincy natives, where the Wollaston Theatre was located) grew up attending. It was this amazing early 20th century art deco theatre/performance space meets legitimate professional world class live venue where vaudeville, live music of all kinds, musical theatre, and film screenings had happened for many, many years. By the time we all started going there in the mid-to-late 70's it was strictly movies, but had such an amazing architecture and look to it that remained pretty much untouched from its inception. That said, it was also in an accelerated state of disrepair that got really bad in the 90's, so much so that the owners decided to close it to make repairs. But they didn't have the knowledge or resources to actually take on what had become a massive project, so in between their mismanagement and the lack of involvement that could have been a crucial benefit from the City, by the time a nonprofit had been formed a decade later to try to save it, it was very sadly way too late. The building was basically ready to collapse and it was finally torn down after having sat abandoned for several years. We were all heartbroken! But as far as the "Wollaston Theatre" record goes, we were ecstatic to get in there and record the stuff we had been writing, and it came at a time of profound transition for the band; Matt Miceli had joined on drums the summer prior, who was a bandmate and creative collaborator of mine, Steve (O'Brien, vocals), and Phil's (Thompson, bass) throughout the 90's into the early 00's, we were writing and arranging a lot, we had the ongoing development of our relationship with Ed in his studio, and added Scott as the final piece that set our next chapter in motion. I actually found it to be infinitely more fulfilling and engaging to record our own stuff, and we were truly excited about sharing these tunes we had introduced into our live shows in recorded form, knowing they would have a whole different flavor and feel in that format. And luck, perhaps timing is more appropriate a word, was on our side as we actually finished the mixes the night before everything really started shutting down due to the pandemic in mid-March of 2020, so it became our little joke that since we couldn't gig we'd put the songs on tour!


Wollaston Theatre has been a big hit, being played around the world. What does that feel like? The production is fantastic, where did you record it? How long did it take to put the EP together? Any fun stories about the process?

It felt pretty great! We approached it with an attitude of "why not?". We had a lot of friends in more established (both regionally and nationally) bands who were getting great airplay and support from this whole sort of informal network of independent (mostly) streaming radio shows and stations all around the world, some affiliated with larger stations, some single shows, and some simply podcasts. But the common theme was they all took chances on new, independently released music in a way that reminded us greatly of how FM radio used to be in Boston, both from the larger commercial rock stations and the plethora of college and indie stations we all idolized and listened to with devotion for years. So we decided to throw our hats in the ring, drafted press releases in a similar manner to how an established independent record label would, and sent each of the four songs on the EP out over the course of a year or so, working the records to each of these stations the way legitimate labels or a music PR company would. Much to our amazement, each of the tunes were received and welcomed as if we actually were being represented by a label, and we ended up getting airplay in 18 different countries on over 150 stations/shows, with many of those stations actually adding our songs into their standard rotation over and above a single play on a new music show. It was pretty cool seeing our songs make "top ten indie charts" in the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Spain, Portugal, and Canada! I guess the lesson there is to always give it a go if you believe in what you're doing. And we did. We really appreciate the compliment on the record production itself, we went in with a collective approach that the studio was another instrument for the band to explore and expand our sound with, which I think encouraged us to have fun with it and push boundaries and ideas to make the recorded versions of the songs the best they could be within that format, and not limiting ourselves to worrying about replicating how they might sound live. The studio is a very fun and rewarding place for us so we enjoy the process immensely and embrace the opportunities it provides for exploration. Like the prior stuff, it was recorded at "Ed's Barn" in Canton with our sonic partner in crime, Ed Riemer. In terms of time, it was a staggered approach on getting it out there, as once it was mastered we were ready to roll it out for digital/streaming and promotional purposes, but took some time to get the jacker/cover art, sleeve, and vinyl label designed (by another amazing creative partner of the band, our great friend Ed Devlin who does all of our design, layout, and logo work), and then some unanticipated delays in the actual manufacturing of the vinyl record itself on top of that. We work with an independent pressing plant in Ohio, but because so many bands were looking to press up vinyl during the pandemic, and with the major labels using indie pressing plants on a freelance basis as they themselves were so far behind in manufacturing and production (our job got bumped for over a month at one point as they got a major contract to press up a Paul McCartney record!), it created a multistep approach to the rollout, with the first single getting played on the "Rodney On The Rock" show on Sirius XM's Underground Garage channel in late May, and the finished vinyl pressing arriving at our doorsteps in early December almost seven months later.


What's next for the Gypsy Moths?

We're coming off our fourth gig since being back at it, which has been pretty incredible and an amazing experience in appreciation after having no shows for 18 months! We played our first ever "stripped"/semi-unplugged show mid-summer, and three really fun and high energy outdoor gigs as well. The elements weren't really on our side for any of those three outdoor shows (two high heat late afternoons, and another with intermittent downpours both before and during the set), but we accepted the scenarios and ran with it and all three turned into some of the most fun gigs we've played to date as a band. At this writing (late September), we have three more shows booked for the year: 10/15 at a very cool new spot in Norwood called The Magic Room with our pals/Boston legends The Dogmatics, 10/30 at the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain with two bands that have become good friends over the last few years Tsunami Of Sound and The Ghost Truckers, and finally 11/13 at one of our longtime homeposts, the New World Tavern in Plymouth with B-52's tribute band Bikini Whale. We're also headed back to the studio in late October, with a general plan to record a series of two-song streaming singles over the next year which will culminate in a vinyl pressing of those tunes once we hit a dozen or so songs overall. Hopefully lots of fun and interesting gigs sprinkled in there as well, as time goes on we continue to strive for a balance between mainstay spots like the New World/Midway/Plough & Stars and new offbeat and unusual spots like the outdoor shows, breweries, etc. And the band continues to write and explore new territories with where we'll take things musically, and have gotten pretty heavy into workshopping "pre-production" home demos as another aspect of the recording process, so expect plenty of new music in the year ahead! 

Here's a video of the Gypsy Moths in action

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU6F_P8P9tQ

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

An interview with author Sandy Bernstein

Sandy Bernstein is a fellow writer, a member of the Stoneham Writers Group

(of which I am also a member despite not living in Stoneham), and a friend.

Sandy is a writer of diverse styles and genres. Poetry, prose, horror,

science fiction, humor, history, are all the playthings of her imagination.

Sandy has that rare talent to balance her vivid ideas with precise writing.

I decided to interview an author instead of a musician this time out.

So here we are, an interview conducted with author Sandy Bernstein via email.


Who would you say are your biggest literary influences?

Early on I was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells, Robert Frost, and J. R. R. Tolkien,

to name a few. Liking the dark side, I've always been a fan of Stephen King. Others, who may

have influenced me are; Anne Rice, Darcy Coates, J. R. Rain, and Deborah LeBlanc.

Recently, I've been reading a variety of historical fiction and mysteries, some by local authors.

They also inspire my writing. As always, anything paranormal gets my creative juices flowing. 

While I like straight up horror, it isn't the nucleus of my work. I like ghost stories, often with 

a deeper meaning. Over the years many authors have inspired me in one way or another.

Perhaps through them I discovered my own voice.


What parts of them do you see in your own work?

Certainly the throat grabbing openings of King and the slow torturous grind of Poe.

I'm capable of that to a degree. But they are masters of the craft. I'm better at slow

tension and building a story. It depends on the genre. In the end,

it's about good storytelling.


What style/genre do you most like writing and why?

Ah, finally an easy question. Anything spooky, dark, fantastical, or edgy.

In a word, paranormal. I like mysteries and crime drama too, but there has to be a dark element.

Anything outside the norm. There are so many things going on around us we don't see,

or we don't want to see. I like to shed a little light on things that go bump in the night.

I would say the same for poetry. Only, it's the inner world we're afraid of, another form of

darkness. Sometimes you don't know how you feel about something until you write it down.

In this case, there is no hiding from yourself. 


How would you describe your writing process?

Basically, I get an idea, sketch it out in my head or start a draft just to get it down.

Most of the time, it's an image, a scene. That scene will play out and turn into a story

or a poem. Other times it's a character. It all comes together with a basic idea and 

works its way into something more tangible. I hope. I like to think of it as a ghost

slowly taking shape into something more solid and real. Everything has a story.

You just need to find it.


You've published two stories on Amazon; Creepies, and the Shuddering.

What would you like people to know about them?

Read them and find out.


If a movie ever gets made of either one, who do envision being cast as the leads?

I've never given it any thought. That said, maybe the girl in Creepies could have been played

by a young Dakota Fanning. But she's older now so I guess she couldn't play a six year old.


You have been published in many different physical publications and websites. Which ones are you the most proud of?

Wow, only recently I looked at some of my past accomplishments when I redid my website. I had links to older works in magazines and webzines. I'd forgotten about most of them. A couple stand out: An article on poetry was published in the Writer Magazine 2003. Another article on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) appeared in the Jan 2010 issue of the Writer's Journal. Also my poem, Temperate Moon was published in a magazine called Flashquake in 2005. It was the editor's pick of the month.

And, Sour Grapes, the newsletter for rejected writers and other tormented souls. We had articles on writing and rejection, a column for editors, and poetry. SG was written up in the Boston Globe in 1997. It was a fun project with artist/writer Sheila Foley. SG ran for nine years, both in print form and as a webzine. It was a great experience on so many levels and taught me a lot as an editor.

Which one of all your published works is your favorite, and why so? 

Only one? I'd like to say two poems. Temperate Moon, for it's sensual imagery and Guardians of the Keep. A fantasy narrative piece for which Sheila Foley did a pen and ink illustration. They do great at readings and I kind of think of them as classics. Wish I could produce like that all the time, but that's not how things work. For a story, I'd have to say the Shuddering. It has stood the test of time as far as storytelling goes with multiple layers and believable characters. I still really like the story.

Which character that you've created is your favorite? Please explain why that character is your favorite.

A tough one. Some stand out more than others. I like Brooke Howell, the protagonist in my Reluctant Medium series. She is a young medium who continually ignores her family traits and often finds herself in trouble because she has denied so many things. As time goes on her gifts develop and she becomes more intuitive. Her family's past haunts her, literally. Some people call her crazy because she sees ghosts. But more than that her inquisitive nature takes over and she is compelled to help people, sometimes the wrong people, in order to solve a mystery. She's multi layered with a quirky sense of humor and those around her often throw her off track. She's complex and I'm having fun getting to know her. Because it's an ongoing project I'm still learning about her.

What are you presently working on?

Ah, The Reluctant Medium, among other things. I've completed book one and two in draft form. They still need work before I can start book three. That's all I have planned for the RM series. But it may spawn a novella or two. Who knows? Other than that, I'm always writing new shorts and poetry. My plan is to continue submitting the more marketable stories. I'm hopeful for their eventual publication. If not, I may put out a compilation of stories. Also I'd like to go back to an earlier novel, when time permits.

 


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Cat Temper is the musical project of composer and cat pun enthusiast, Mike Langlie. I've been a long time fan of Mike's past music output. I thought it was time I investigated this very talented musician who may have created a genre of music known as, Meowwave. 

Without further ado, here's the interview with Cat Temper/Mike Langlie conducted via email. I hope you dig it more than a litter box.


1. How did you get the idea for Cat Temper?



My previous toytronica project was all happy bunnies and rainbows. A little bit tongue-in-cheek but mostly un-ironic joy made from simple instruments, catchy melodies and hyper arrangements. Not everyone got what I was going for and I learned to ignore the trolls bashing what they considered to be non-serious music. I took it as far as I could – some might say too far – and took a break to figure out what to do next.


I went back to my roots to explore the sounds I liked as a kid getting into music in the 1980s. Synth-heavy Electro and New Wave, sloppy Punk, bombastic Prog Rock, and a bit of ridiculous Hair Metal. Even 8-bit sounds from early Atari and arcade games became an ingredient. The idea of an unpredictable semi-feral feline seemed to embody the spirit of this crazy mix, and was also a contrast to the friendliness of my previous outing.



2. How would you describe what your genre is? Are you worried about being restricted by a genre?


As Cat Temper was getting off the ground I discovered the 80s Synthwave revival which I absolutely love. My music doesn't exactly fit that mold but Synthwave fans picked up on the retro elements and welcomed me into the scene. It's a diverse evolving genre with branches like Darksynth, Vaporwave, Sweatwave (emulating 80s aerobic video soundtracks) and other niche styles. Someone jokingly labeled my stuff as "Meowave" and it stuck. I don't mind being in a genre of one band!


Even with my previous project which had a specific palette I didn't worry about stylistic constraints. I like exploring different themes with every album and seeing where my sound develops. I get bored quickly which may also explain why most of my songs are like a car crash of genre mashups.



3. Is there a musician/band that most inspires you in your Cat Temper work?


Its DNA has traces of 1980s electronic music oddballs like DEVO, P-Model, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Alien Sex Fiend, and Futurisk. More recent influences include Skinny Puppy, Mindless Self Indulgence, and Nine Inch Nails which is obvious if you've seen the song titles for my latest album "Kitty Hate Machine".



4. How do you go about creating a Cat Temper song?


Almost all of my tracks start by playing with sound design. Each song is almost an excuse to find uses for weird synth patches, combining them as characters in musical conversations. That approach guides where songs go more than a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, for better or worse.


I fully embrace the low-brow nature of this project. I'd much rather see how far I can take a "dumb" riff and idea than stress over creating a masterpiece. I love happy accidents and unexpected detours that pop up. Nothing ever comes out as planned, it's always a fun surprise for me.



5. The first Cat Temper "Purring For Vengeance" album was released in 2019. Since then you've released seven more albums. How are you able to create so much exciting music in such a short span of time? Many major bands release one album every few years.


At my age I feel like I have to accomplish as much as possible before the meteor hits! Working mostly in the box on a laptop speeds things up compared to previous projects. Thankfully I don't often get writer's block. I have a notebook full of concept album ideas I'll never get around to doing. Everyone is over-saturated with entertainment options these days – especially music – so I'm trying to slow down a little and "only" release a couple albums a year to let people catch up!


6. Your second album "Henry" is an alternate soundtrack to the movie Eraserhead. What made you think you could meld this type of music to such a stark film?


David Lynch is as much of an influence on my music as any bands. His first film Eraserhead blew my mind at a young age and opened me up to enjoying strangeness and offbeat humor in both movies and life in general. I also love seeing musicians do alternate soundtracks for films to reinterpret a story and characters. I always wanted to do that and only recently had the confidence to attempt it.


Eraserhead is my favorite film but a tough one for many people to get into. Everything about it is unconventional – the story, sets, acting, and soundtrack which is mostly industrial drones and noises. A big motivation was to help people find a way in with a more approachable hook. Since there's little dialogue and music it lends itself to being treated like a silent film. In no way do I want to compare what I do with "Henry"  (named after the main character) to the genius of Lynch. If my re-score helps people appreciate the film or rediscover it in a new way then I consider the experiment a success.


7. On one album you've had collaborators. How did that come to be? Anyone you've tried to work with but haven't gotten a collar on yet?


One bit of feedback I got with every album is people want to hear my songs with vocals. I finally gave in and asked a bunch of my favorite singers with different voices and styles in the electronic music scene to collaborate on the album "More Than a Feline". It was an opportunity to work with cool people whose work I admire. Not everyone I invited wanted to play but I'm thrilled to have worked with the people who did.


Writing music for vocalists is strange for me and I'm sure what I gave them was a challenge! My only guidance was to write cat-themed lyrics and I can't believe the great directions everyone took. I'm still in awe of the talent and generosity that each person put into it.


Of course working with 10 people was a bit like wrangling cats due to busy schedules and priorities. The album took over a year to complete and I learned a lot during the mixing stage. I don't know how soon I'll attempt something that ambitious again with other people involved. It's much easier and faster to do everything myself, but I'm extremely happy with the process and results of the experience.


Two singers I'd love to collab with are Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats and Nina Hagen. Call me back!


8. You released "Kitty Hate Machine" on cassette. Some of your releases have been on vinyl. Why did you go with cassette instead of vinyl? How different was it to prepare the album for a cassette instead of vinyl?


One of my dreams as a kid fascinated with records was to release my own music on vinyl. I'm happy that I've been able to do that several times now, and have it in people's collections.


Vinyl is expensive to make, takes a long time to get pressed, and requires careful audio mastering to sound decent. I've been fortunate to have help from a small label (thank you Lazersteel Records!) and some crowdfunding campaigns.


I had a big cassette collection growing up and when CDs came around I thought that was the death knell for tapes. The recent cassette resurgence was a real surprise and it took a while for me dive back into the format. There's obviously a huge nostalgia and novelty factor. Tapes are relatively cheap to produce, especially compared to vinyl, and there are fun packaging options available. Plus it doesn't require special audio prep. I see alot of cool looking tapes on Bandcamp and wanted to experiment with releasing my own. The "Kitty Hate Machine" cassette sold really well and I increased my order to meet demand. I'm considering releasing a bunch of older albums on tape for people who like the format, plus so I can have my own copies for pure vanity's sake!


You can check out Cat Temper here!